BRADENTON, Fla. — The Pirates made some long-expecting pitching plans official on Friday.
Manager Clint Hurdle revealed that Trevor Williams and Chad Kuhl will follow Ivan Nova in the team’s season-opening series in Detroit.
After Jameson Taillon starts the home opener, the Pirates will go back to Nova against the Minnesota Twins, with fifth starter Joe Musgrove expected to be ready to join the rotation in time for the second home series of the year against the Cincinnati Reds.
Steven Brault and Tyler Glasnow will officially start the season in the Major League bullpen.
Brault threw 3.2 innings against the Philadelphia Phillies at LECOM Park on Friday, allowing four runs on eight hits. He struck out three and walked one.
“It was a hard day,” Hurdle said. “He was working up hill most of the day.”
Elias Diaz threw out two runners on the basepaths. He back-picked Jorge Alfaro at third base in the second inning and then threw Cesar Hernandez stealing second.
The Pirates have been back-picking more this spring, and it’s something that will probably carry over into the season.
“We started talking about it, actually in August last year, putting in a whole new program this year,” Hurdle said. “We have. It’s all part of the controlling the running game portion. The pick to third today, the back-picks at first, the throws to second, even Kuhl trying to get a guy, we’re just going to be more active and more aggressive with it. We’re just trying to get outs unconventionally in ways that we maybe haven’t tried as often in the past. There are outs to be had, as evidenced by today.”
Diaz, meanwhile, continues to impress defensively.
“The trust is there and the trust is real,” Hurdle said. “He’s going to be a C2 for us that can play into a C1 some day. … He’s made throws that get your attention.”
The Pirates have a ton of starting pitching depth, with Brault and Glansow headed to the bullpen and Nick Kingham in Triple-A. It’s a pretty good place for pitching coach Ray Searage, and he feels pretty good about the next wave, too, that could include Clay Holmes and Mitch Keller.
“Definitely,” Searage said. “They just need more innings, they need more consistency of getting into that routine as starters and stuff. With Holmesy, he was bumping all over the place. Kingham, I had to separate him because there were some other guys who needed to pitch in front of him.”
Keller, who got to pitch two innings against the Boston Red Sox on Mar. 18 in his first Major League Spring Training appearance, impressed Searage with his unflappable nature.
“I saw a slow heartbeat,” Searage said. “I saw somebody who just went up there and competed. It didn’t matter who was up there at the plate. Even though it was Triple-A guys. He didn’t care. He dotted his fastball to his glove side consistently. They had no chance. Real easy delivery and that thing came out and it looked like it was going to come out at 88 and it came out and whoop! And the hitters are, ‘What in the wild world of sports was that?’”
Searage’s enthusiasm for the talented young hurler was easy to see, but he did caution not to read too much into one, two-inning appearance.
“He still needs development, though,” Searage said. “You could tell that. He’s got a good foundation.”
Kevin Kramer and Kevin Newman made a couple of nice plays up the middle. It’s a tandem that projects to start the season in Indianapolis, but at least from a defensive standpoint, they seem close to MLB-ready. Hurdle said that the fact that they’ve been able to play together this spring has helped them.
“We like what they’re doing and they’re still gaining game experience at this level,” Hurdle said. “The other cool thing about these guys is that they’ve won championships together. They’ve played together. They have a good understanding of working together.”
The other thing that Hurdle has seen that he likes is their familiarity with the way the Pirates like to play defense. The Pirates starting playing with more infield shifts at the MLB level around 2013 and had already started to refine that process when Kramer and Newman were drafted in 2015. The fact that they’ve come all the way up that way makes them something of a plug-and-play option for the Pirates defensively, especially when compared to external options.
“They’ve been shifting for a while,” Hurdle said. “Our minor-league system was shifting before a lot of people. We were right on the cutting edge of it. So these guys have been in the system.”
The Pirates probably won’t be carrying a true backup to shortstop Jordy Mercer on the Major League roster. But Kramer, Newman and Max Moroff can provide solid middle infield depth from Indianapolis.